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with Culture and Organization

Deadline: 13 September 2021

The politics of difference:

Critical investigations across time and space

The politics of difference seems to be on the rise in today’s world: ethnic identities are essentialized (e.g. Barth 1998), minority individuals are denied belonging based on presumed cultural otherness (Weichselbaumer 2016). An assumed modern West is discursively constructed as a homogeneous cultural unit that needs to be defended against presumably less developed cultural ‘others’ (Rahman 2017). Concurrently, English language fluency is widely hailed as signifying global cosmopolitanism: it seems almost impossible to voice arguments against the Englishization of the international business world (Boussebaa, Sinha and Gabriel 2014), including the production of business knowledge (Boussebaa and Tienari 2019).

Consequently, in some cases, difference has become normalized as negative, detrimental or even dangerous, e.g. the contemporary refugee crisis (Holmes and Castañeda 2016). We wonder why certain differences should only be negative. Which differences have become normalized in negative ways and how exactly does difference emerge in such a shape?

After all, difference is of interest to people; it intrigues us, it enlarges our comfort zones, and it enriches our behavioural repertoires as social and organizational beings. A focus on difference, with positive or negative connotations, may result in innovative organizational ideas, triggering learning and change. Theories of intercultural competency development and global management presuppose ideas of positive differences (Schneider, Barsoux and Stahl 2003). So why should it be that (implicitly white, male, Western) cosmopolitanism and English language fluency is more valuable than, for instance, individual or organizational connections to parts of the world that are categorized as non-West or the Global South (Zanoni et al. 2010; Al Ariss and Crowley-Henry 2013; Wanderley and Barros 2018)? Hence, the question which differences have become ‘normalized’ in such a way, and how (Faria, Ibarra-Colado and Guedes 2010; Ibarra-Colado 2006), emerges.

Accordingly, we assume that difference is not an objective reality but a highly politicized process of positioning which advantages some over others (Golnaraghi and Dye 2016). In whatever ways it emerges, difference is never innocent (Harding 2009). Against this background, we wish to investigate the role that organizing and organization(s) play in how certain differences become ‘normalized’ in certain ways (Anshuman Prasad 2003, Naccache and Al Ariss, 2017). We assume that difference and organization are mutually constitutive, and that their intersections will differ across contexts (Ajnesh Prasad 2009) and across time (Munslow 2010; Maclean, Harvez and Clegg 2015; Barradan, Mills and Paludi 2017).

Previous studies have examined difference from specific angles (e.g., as either enriching or limiting) or as related to specific topics (such as migration, diversity or culture). In this special issue we neither limit the discussion to a specific perspective on difference nor to a specific theme. Rather, we wish to investigate how exactly the politics of difference emerge from specific intersections within and across time and space. For instance, the diversity category ‘race’ has meant something different in different periods of time, and is today understood and dealt with differently in different societal, economic and political contexts (Lentin 2008). The same difference might thus be labelled racial in one context or time, and ethnic or cultural in another.

We invite empirical and conceptual studies that investigate how, why, what for and by whom difference is constructed, affirmed, resisted, politicized etc., and that explore alternatives across time (past, present, future) and/or across space (e.g. societies, nations, cultures, organizations, professions, virtual worlds, disciplines, contexts). In addition to studies focusing on established perspectives such as language, symbolic meaning, cultural capital, performance or discourse, we explicitly invite studies which consider difference broadly, e.g. how it is embodied or involves objects, technology and non-humans (see Harding 2009; Durepos and Mills 2012). We are open to novel methodologies, and studies might also be conceptual or review existing literature.

Generally, contributions should acknowledge the power implications of the politics of difference (see Romani, Mahadevan and Primecz, 2018). For example, at the micro level, it might be that conflict in a global team or in a multinational organization is explained with cultural differences but is actually rooted in unequal structures. At the meso level certain organizational ideas, e.g. of the ideal employee or of ‘good leadership’, might favour a certain ‘type’ of individual over others who are thus constructed as negatively different or Other. Macro level requirements for belonging, e.g. established societal responses to ethnic diversity, might frame organizational sense-making, practices and structures (Mahadevan and Kilian-Yasin 2016; Aromaa, Eriksson, Lammassari, Mills and Helms Mills, 2019).

Contributions might also explore intersections, e.g. of diversity categories, of identity and culture, of history and organization et cetera, as related to our aim of challenging the politics of difference. For instance, it might be that an individual is advantaged because of a certain identity marker but disadvantaged due to another. It might also be that a person’s ethnicity is perceived favourably in one context, but negatively in another, or certain practices or certain symbols such as ‘the Muslim’ have changed meaning across time and contexts (e.g. Golnaraghi and Dye 2016; Mahadevan and Kilian-Yasin, 2016; Primecz, Mahadevan and Romani 2016; Weichselbaumer 2016).

When investigating history, contributions should not report historical developments or cultural/ethnic/organizational/and so on differences as facts, but rather investigate the constructions of difference across time. They should reflect upon history critically, for instance, by means of genealogy (e.g. Ajnesh Prasad 2009); problematization (Alvesson and Sandberg 2011); tracing actor networks over time (Durepos and Mills 2012), and other approaches to historiography that destablize the relationship between history and the past (Maclean, Harvey and Clegg 2015; Munslow 2010).

Contributions might also reflect critically upon concepts such as diversity and inclusion. For it could be that these labels do not facilitate inclusion but rather, by putting difference into words, boxes, contribute to the prevalent discourses of difference. So, how can we be sure that critical scholarly engagement will change the politics of difference for the better?

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Guest Editors

Jasmin Mahadevan, Pforzheim University, Germany

Henriett Primecz, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary

Albert J. Mills, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada

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In summary, contributions might be related to (but are not limited to) one or a combination of the following themes:

  • Historical investigations of present constructions of difference; ruptures in the histories of ‘difference’ and alternative histories of organizing and organization(s)
  • Identifications across space (e.g. societies, nations, cultures, organizations, professions, virtual worlds, flows of meaning, contexts etc.) and time, and intersectionality of identity, across time, and within and/or across organizational and/or societal contexts
  • Organizational mechanisms that construct, affirm, resist, change, institutionalize (and so on) difference (e.g. hegemony, privilege, discourse, language, framing, labelling, habitus, practice, bodies, performance, symbolic interactions, actor networks, cultural explanations).
  • Reflexive considerations of a critical scholarly engagement with difference in organizational contexts.
  • Lenses from which to investigate the politics of difference, particularly in organizations (e.g. discourse analysis, phenomenology, embodiment, performativity, postcolonial and subaltern studies, postmodernism, intersectionality, historiography, standpoint theory, gender studies).
  • Conceptual contributions to studying the aforementioned phenomena.

This list is intended to be indicative only. Innovative interpretations of the call are encouraged.  With its long tradition of interdisciplinary approaches, C&O invites papers that draw insights and approaches from across a range of social sciences and humanities.  In addition to scholars working in management and organization studies we welcome contributions from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, politics, art history, communication, film, gender and cultural studies. We welcome papers from any disciplinary, paradigmatic or methodological perspective that directly address the theme of the politics of difference. 

Submission Guidelines

Please ensure that all submissions to the special issue are made via Culture and Organization's ScholarOne site. You will have to sign up for an account before you are able to submit a manuscript. Please ensure when you do submit that you select the relevant special issue (Volume 29, Issue 2, 2023) to direct your submission appropriately. If you experience any problems, please contact the editors of this issue.

Style and other instructions on manuscript preparation can be found on the journal’s Instructions for Authors. Manuscript length should not exceed 8000 words, including appendices and supporting materials. Please also be aware that any images used in your submission must be your own, or where they are not, you must already have permission to reproduce them in an academic journal. You should make this explicit in the submitted manuscript. Should you wish to discuss ideas for potential submissions in advance, please contact the guest editors.

Manuscripts must be submitted by 13 September 2021.

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Al Ariss, A. and M. Crowley-Henry. 2013. Self-initiated expatriation and migration in the management literature. Career Development International 18(1): 78-96.
Alvesson, M. and J. Sandberg. 2011. Generating research questions through problematization. Academy of Management Review 36(2): 247-71.
Aromaa, E., P. Eriksson, M. Lammassaari, A.J. Mills, & J. Helms Mills, J. (2019). Critical Sensemaking: A Review. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, https://doi.org/10.1108/QROM-05-2018-1645.
Barragan, S., A.J. Mills, and M. Paludi. 2017. Top women managers as change agents in the machismo context of Mexico. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 36(4): 321-99.
Barth, F. 1998 [1969]. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries – The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Long Grove: Waveland Press.
Boussebaa, M., S. Sinha, and Y. Gabriel. 2014. Englishization in offshore call centers: A postcolonial perspective. Journal of International Business Studies 45(9): 1152-69.
Boussebaa, M., and J. Tienari. 2019. Englishization and the politics of knowledge production in  management studies. Journal of Management Inquiry. DOI: 10.1177/1056492619835314.
Durepos, G., and A.J. Mills. 2012. Actor network theory, ANTi-history, and critical organizational historiography. Organization 19(6): 703-21.
Faria, A., Ibarra-Colado, E., and Guedes, A. (2010). Internationalization of management, neoliberalism and the Latin America challenge. Critical Perspectives on International Business, 6(2/3), 97-115. doi:10.1108/17422041011049932
Golnaraghi, G. and K. Dye. 2016. Discourses of contradiction: a postcolonial analysis of Muslim women and the veil. International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management 16(2): 137-52.
Harding, S. 2009. Postcolonial and feminist philosophies of science and technology: convergences and dissonances. Postcolonial Studies 12(4): 401-21.
Holmes, S.M., and H. Castañeda. 2016. Representing the “European Refugee Crisis” in Germany and beyond: Deservingness and difference, life and death. American Ethnologist 43(1): 1-13.
Ibarra-Colado, E. 2006. Organization Studies and epistemic coloniality in Latin America: thinking otherness from the margins. Organization 13(4): 463-88.
Lentin, A. 2008, Europe and the silence about race. European Journal of Social Theory 11(4): 487-503.
Mahadevan, J., and K. Kilian-Yasin. 2016. Dominant discourse, Orientalism and the need for reflexive HRM: Skilled Muslim migrants in the German context. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-23. doi:10.1080/09585192.2016.1166786.
Maclean, M., C. Harvey, and S.R. Clegg. 2015. Conceptualizing historical organization studies. Academy of Management Review 41(4): 609-32.
Munslow, A. 2010. The Future of History. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Naccache, P., and A. Al Ariss. 2017. The forced migration crisis and the role of European corporations: a point of view. European Management Review 15(4): 589-96.
Prasad, Ajnesh. 2009. Contesting hegemony through genealogy: Foucault and cross-cultural management research. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 9(3): 359-69.
Prasad, Anshuman. 2003. The Gaze of the Other: postcolonial theory and organizational analysis. In Anshuman Prasad (Ed.), Postcolonial theory and organizational analysis: a critical engagement (pp. 3-43). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Primecz, H., J. Mahadevan, J., and L. Romani. 2016. Why is cross-cultural management blind to power relations? Investigating ethnicity, language, gender and religion in power-laden contexts. International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management 16(2): 127-36.
Rahman, M. 2017. Islamophobia, the impossible Muslim, and the reflexive potential of intersectionality’. In J. Mahadevan and C.-H. Mayer (Eds), Muslim minorities, workplace diversity and reflexive HRM (pp. 35-45). London: Taylor and Francis.
Romani, L., J. Mahadevan, and H. Primecz. 2018. Critical Cross-Cultural Management: outline and emergent contributions. International Studies of Management & Organization 48(4): 403-18. doi:10.1080/00208825.2018.1504473.
Schneider, S.C., J-L. Barsoux, and G.K. Stahl. 2003. Managing Across Cultures. Hawlow: Pearson Education.
Wanderley, S., and A. Barros, A. 2018. Decoloniality, geopolitics of knowledge and historic turn: towards a Latin American agenda. Management & Organizational History 14(1): 79-97.
Weichselbaumer, D. 2016. Discrimination against Female Migrants Wearing Headscarves. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10217. Available from: http://ftp.iza.org/dp10217.pdf.
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